Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Chizuko Omori Interview II
Narrator: Chizuko Omori
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: May 25, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-ochizuko-02

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: Okay. Today is Wednesday, May 25, 2011. We are at the Woodfin Hotel in Emeryville, California. We will be doing a second interview with Chizu Omori, and Dana Hoshide is on the video and I will be interviewing, and my name is Martha Nakagawa. So, Chizu, tell me which grammar school you went to.

CO: Well, I went to a bunch of them. Like I said, the families moved around some. The one I remember, the earliest one was Costa Mesa grammar school. And then from there, went, I think at that point we moved to Oceanside and went to grammar school in Oceanside.

MN: What was the grammar school in Oceanside called?

CO: Man, I don't remember. [Laughs] It was just probably Oceanside grammar school. I don't know that they had a whole bunch of grammar schools there. Because it was a small town at that time.

MN: What was the ethnic makeup of the grammar school?

CO: Well, again, it was mostly white, and really a real sprinkling of Japanese Americans. And then there might have been maybe... I don't know what kind of proportion, but there were Mexican American kids going to that school. So they were segregated in the earlier grades. If they didn't speak English, they would be put into what we called the "Mexican school" where they would go through a transition of learning English and then go back into the regular school. But a lot of them dropped out and all that, so I really didn't know very many of those kids. So you might just call it a relatively "white" school.

MN: Now, the non-Nikkei students and the teachers there, how did they treat you?

CO: Just like everybody else, you know. It was kind of a small town atmosphere, and there just weren't very many of us, so we were just accepted as students. And really, we were not discriminated against. I mean, the scapegoats there were the Hispanic kids, if you want to go into some kind of a hierarchy there.

MN: Now at Oceanside, were your parents involved with the Kumamoto Kenjinkai?

CO: Yeah. All the people... we must have covered that whole business about the cooperative, farm cooperative that was formed or does that come later? Well, anyway, in Oceanside --

MN: Tell us about it again.

CO: Yeah, that there was a group of farmers who knew each other, I guess. They were all from Kumamoto, and so the Oceanside Farmers Cooperative Association was really all people from Kumamoto. So that was kind of built in, that the kenjinkai things would happen. And I just have memories of, like, once a year, a real big picnic, probably at the beach or someplace like that, there the Kumamoto-ken people would get together.

MN: Now, this big picnic, were these people just from the Oceanside Kumamoto-ken people, or did they come from San Diego, L.A.?

CO: Not that far away, but there weren't just us, our group, there were others, too. There's other small towns in that area, so it was a regional kind of thing, I guess. I don't remember ever going to anything like that in L.A. or San Diego.

MN: Now, when you say you have these memories of these picnics, how many people attended?

CO: Gee, maybe several hundred or so. You know, it's very vague. The one thing I remember is they would have raffles. And I won, as a little kid, I won a case of four gallons of shoyu once, and that was very impressive because I'd never won anything before. [Laughs] And it lasted a long time, so I remember that case of shoyu.

MN: Was it Kikkoman? Just out of curiosity.

CO: I don't remember. I really don't remember. But they had things like races, sack races, I don't know. I think there was like eggs in a spoon race, and just things like that. They were very fun as I recall. And back in those days, things like soda pop were a big treat. We didn't have soda pop in the refrigerator all the time. We didn't even have a refrigerator part of the time. But at any rate, so having as much soda as you liked was something that was for special occasions. And I remember that. And we would have all these nigiri and chicken teriyaki, and oh, all those things, the picnic foods, sushi and kamaboko. Anyway, I guess the women had to work hard for those things, 'cause they did all that cooking. [Laughs]

MN: Yeah, did your mother spend days making the obento?

CO: Oh, I suppose, I don't know. And you know, they would be in these juubako kinds of things with the furoshiki or whatever, yeah, tying everything up. So those were the kinds of things that I associate with picnics.

MN: What did your mother make and put into the juubako?

CO: Well, the nigirizushi with the stuff either inside them or on top of them. And of course, when we used to have the foods that came from, like, L.A. and such, maybe you guys have never heard of these things, but gobo maki I remember, and kinpira gobo... gee, I'm stuck on gobo, huh? Tempura vegetables, all those finger foods. Well, but then, of course, some American-style things were creeping in, fried chicken, potato salad maybe. You know, it got so that it was sort of a mixture.

MN: You mentioned gobo. Did your parents raise those kind of vegetables?

CO: No, uh-uh. Not gobo anyway. What I do remember is daikon, they raised daikon. And one of the big treats that I remember is my mother would thin out the daikon rows, the baby daikon, and she would make tsukemono with this baby daikon. I remember that, 'cause I especially liked that. And I can't remember how it was made, it's too bad. I guess I'll have to grow my own if I want baby daikon now. [Laughs]

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

MN: Now, even before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the Oceanside Nikkei community had to make arrangements to move out. Can you share with us why they had to move out?

CO: Well, the land that they were farming was going to become a marine base, what they call Camp Pendleton now. So that was in the works, so we would have had to move out in any case. But that was pretty close to the start of the war.

MN: And what areas was this community looking at moving to?

CO: Well, it's pretty far back, but I remember... and I don't know whether this was... it had to be after the war started because they couldn't just move to another part of California. I mean, they would have, probably, had the war not started. But the name of Minnesota, I remember it. And this group wanted to go as a group. I guess they were rejected, they were not, they were told not to come or something. But any rate, that did not come to pass, so we were still there when the evacuation orders came.

MN: So this area that you, your family and this community was farming on is now Camp Pendleton, right?

CO: Uh-huh.

MN: If I were to go there now, is there any remnant of this Oceanside Nikkei community anywhere?

CO: No, there wouldn't be. There just wouldn't be. I mean, you know, the houses are pretty ramshackle, they were farmhouses and such. The only building worth anything I guess at that point would have been the schoolhouse that they built. But I'm sure they just bulldozed everything to make the base.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

MN: I wanted to ask a little bit about your childhood growing up in this area. On your free time, what did you do? What sort of games did you play?

CO: Well, you know, it was pretty standard stuff, playing... well, I don't think it was baseball. We did a lot of those things like jacks and tops and jump rope, hide-and-go-seek, just a lot of stuff. Because it was a farm, we could do things that I think maybe city kids couldn't do, like dig real big holes and cover them over and pretend that they were houses and go down inside, into the hole, and set it up like a house. I remember that, 'cause the boys helped us dig, which was nice, so we had a big space. Anyway, also going fishing in a nearby creek, and that, I remember shooting down little birds with BB guns. They all learned to drive early out on the farm, the boys, so just rambling around in pickup trucks and doing that kind of thing. Yeah, we had a lot to do as little kids. Although they were things that we chose on our own to do, pretty unsupervised activity.

MN: And you mentioned going fishing to the creek. Were you close to the ocean also?

CO: We were close to the ocean, and sometimes family, my father liked to go fishing. So he would go surf fishing or sometimes pier fishing and that kind of thing. But another thing we used to do is go to rocky areas to gather octopus. That I remember. There was a way of, at low tide, luring out octopus, small octopus, from under the rocks, bringing those home, and we would gather snails and little abalone and sometimes seaweed. I don't know, just scavenge around the rocks. And I do remember mushroom hunting as a kid. My dad liked to do that, so after the rains he would go out looking for mushrooms. And my father hunted also. He shot pheasant and what else? That I remember. But once he did go duck hunting. So anyway, these were kind of rural things that we did.

MN: Really living off the land.

CO: To some extent, yeah. We had chickens, I mean, they grew little gardens with vegetables. And there was a lot of barter and that kind of thing going on. These were Depression days, but I don't remember ever feeling like we had to go hungry, or that we felt really poor or really resentful of other people. I think everybody was in the same boat. And like we had clothes and shoes and stuff but a lot of the kids that came to the school came barefoot in those days. So under the circumstances, we didn't feel like we were undergoing tremendous deprivations or anything.

MN: Now, you've been friends with the writer Hisaye Yamamoto from before the war. Is it at this Oceanside community that your family got to know each other?

CO: Right.

MN: Now, Hisaye is nine years older than you, but did you have a lot of contact with her?

CO: Well, she lived close by, for one thing. And I used to play with her younger brothers. And Hisaye liked to tell the story of how she used to be babysitter to my sister Emiko, so there was that much contact together. Of course, I was like eight or nine years old, and anyway, just happened to be proximity that she lived very close.

MN: Now, you're a writer also. Did Hisaye have any influence on you being a writer?

CO: I would say that she was the most influential person in my life in those terms, yeah. And she was an intellectual, although as a kid, I didn't realize that, or I didn't understand the breadth of her interests. Like she learned French and all that kind of thing, but I didn't know that. And during camp, we also were neighbors. So all of us having nothing to do, we were all just sort of hanging out wherever we could. So I maintained a good relationship with her at the time, but she always encouraged my writing. I was not particularly interested, but already she had been writing all along, all that time, publishing in the L.A. papers and such. So certainly when I started going to UCLA I was there in the L.A. area, so I used to go see her. And she all along sort of encouraged me in my academic career and in writing.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

MN: Now I want to ask you a little bit about Pearl Harbor. And the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, Sunday, December 7, 1941, how did you hear about the news?

CO: I cannot give you a specific memory. I know that on the day that it happened, I don't think we knew. It was a regular farm day, so everybody was working. And if we had a radio... we must have had a radio. But it's just that the family was not particularly listening to the news on the radio and stuff. Because at that point, it was a pretty much Japanese-speaking family that we were in at that time. But I think maybe the next day I went to school and they were talking about it at school. And I think within our community, they must have talked about it a lot. Anyway, then... although it didn't affect us personally. Like nobody called us out at school, nobody picked on us or anything. But as time went on, some of the farmers took their kids out of school so they could work on the farm. That's my memory, but I was so little that I just kept on going to school, so it didn't affect me personally.

MN: Did you hear of any Japanese Americans being picked up by the FBI shortly after the bombing?

CO: Not... Issei, a few Issei men, but not very many from our community. The only name that sticks in my mind is Mr. Noguchi, that's all.

MN: And at that time, when you heard Mr. Noguchi was picked up, what were you being told of why he was picked up?

CO: I guess there was a sense of fatalism within the community, that, "Well, okay, that's Japan, our homeland, so that doesn't look so good for us, does it?" And so I think they were not too surprised when a few of the older men were picked up. But why? Just because they were Japanese, I guess that's the way we figured. I mean, they didn't pick up a whole lot of people, so it didn't seem so upsetting to the whole community. Probably for the Noguchi family, but not the rest of us. And of course, we would take care of the Noguchi family in that case because they were part of our community.

MN: So there was no rumor like, "Oh, so and so might be a spy"? Nothing like that?

CO: No, I don't remember anything like that.

MN: So what did your family do with the pictures or books or anything that was connected to Japan?

CO: Yeah, my memory is that they did burn some stuff and I think bury some stuff, but you know, we still have surviving pictures, so they saved some things in one old trunk, which a kindly old white grocery man let us store some stuff with him, so I know that trunk survived. But I think they were... we didn't have a whole lot of Japanese stuff like many families did. Like Girls Day stuff or swords, we were not samurai family, so we didn't have any of that stuff. My impression is that my father was not so pro-Japan as many of the others were at the time. So... and I guess we were nominal Buddhists, but I don't think we had a shrine or anything in our house. I don't know, there just was kind of like indifference to that kind of stuff within our household.

MN: Now, once you learned you had to go into camp, what did your family do with the larger furniture?

CO: There wasn't much of any value, as I recall. And there was one day when I guess word was put out that we were, the group was getting rid of stuff. So a lot of people came, and I guess a lot of it was sold. Cars... we had farm equipment, so I guess that was all sold, too, I don't really recall. But it's not like we had precious... well, I've heard a lot of stories and other people had to sell grand pianos and stuff for just a few bucks. We didn't have anything that valuable, so it wasn't so traumatic to us. We were poor people. I don't remember that we had any fancy dish sets or anything. We were not like the city folk.

MN: But your house, what did you do with your house?

CO: Just left it there. Just left it there.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

MN: Can I... I'd like to ask about your mother now. And this is after the war, after camp, and you're restarting your life. And after a few years after camp your mother passed away. Do you think the camp experience and the stress of having to start life over again contributed to her illness?

CO: Well, medically, I really can't speak to the cause and effect sort of thing. The fact that she died of bleeding ulcers would point to her being stressed. But I've been told by doctors even later that had they known what it was, they could have saved her. It's just a combination of circumstances that she bled to death. They didn't recognize what was going wrong with her. And other people have said, oh, well, they now know that ulcers are caused by some bacteria, so I don't really know except that she was a very hard-working, long-suffering kind of wife. [Laughs] Gee, when I think of other Issei mothers, women who've had ten and twelve kids and worked constantly, and they didn't get something like this. So it's hard to say. It's hard to say. But in my mind, it was all connected because it seemed so sudden and so traumatic to have somebody literally drop dead. That's the way it seemed.

MN: Were you there in the hospital when she passed away?

CO: No, I wasn't there. I wasn't there. In fact, I don't know if anybody was there. She was just bleeding to death, and we didn't know and the people in the hospital seemed not to know either. It just was unfortunate it happened over a weekend and they had no staff there or something, I don't know, but that's what I was told. So what can you say? It's just an unfortunate set of circumstances.

MN: Now, after your mother's death, your father had to raise three young girls and you were the oldest. Did you have to take the role of your mother?

CO: Yeah, more or less, yeah. I was, what, sixteen, seventeen. So I learned to cook and do all those things. So at that point, that was our family. Now, my father's brother, his brother had five sons and a daughter, so they had kind of joined up to try farming together. So it wasn't like my father was all alone, so the family kept going that way.

MN: Did your father ever think about remarrying or talking about going back to Japan?

CO: He never wanted to go back to Japan, I mean, not that I know of. In fact, he never did go back to Japan. Lot of people went back just on visits or something like that, he never wanted to do that even. And I never asked him about that, but I think he had felt great, being greatly disillusioned by Japan's, the whole war thing, I think. But he did remarry, so anyway. Yeah, my stepmother, well, I was pretty old at that point, so she really didn't feel like a stepmother to me, but she was to our youngest sister, Emiko.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: Now, how did the camp experience change the way you viewed yourself in the Nikkei community?

CO: I knew that I didn't fit into a rural setting. And then the camp experience also made me feel like I didn't fit into the whole Nikkei community, you know. I just didn't like that having to watch everything you said and did, that you were expected to behave in certain ways and stuff like that. That just did not sit well with me. And I could see particularly women really having to take a second-class citizen role almost within the family. I saw a lot of patriarchs who were really nasty guys. But on the other hand, I must say that the people prewar were a much more rambunctious group than they emerged out of camp. Drunken parties and gambling and you know, sort of like good times and just enjoying things more. That was my impression. I think the camps really killed a certain spirit in the community.

MN: Is that what keeps you active in the Nikkei community as you tried to revive that? You're still very active in the Nikkei community.

CO: Yes and no. Because I did kind of live out of it for quite a while in my earlier adult years. But once I got really interested in the whole camp experience, it brought me back to the community. And I have thought about all this a great deal in that something was killed in our community because of the camp experience. Maybe not just some "thing" but a bunch of things.

MN: Now, what brought you back to the camp experience?

CO: You know, I think I was reading the transcript and maybe I went through some of this already, but encountering... well, I was already an adult of course, and encountering some person who was a psychologist or something. I mean, at a party, this was not a professional thing. And she must have known about a lot of this because she just said, "Oh, so how old were you when you were in the camps?" I really hadn't given it much thought and I said, "Well, I was between the ages of twelve and fifteen." And she said, "Those are really formative years. Have you thought about how they might have affected you?" And then I began to realize, boy, I really blanked out those camp years. I just did not choose to think about 'em at all. Well, that was kind of like the first glimmer of interest. And then Michi Weglyn's book came out in 1976, and you know how you do things sometimes and you're not sure why you did it? But I bought the book and I didn't read it immediately, but I had it around. And I think when I started reading it, I really didn't understand it. Okay, this was, say, late 1970s already. When did redress really start picking up? Sometime after that, yeah. I remember I was living down here in the Bay Area and I joined the group which was called Asian Americans for Community Involvement, AACI, I remember that. And it was a group of young Asian Americans, and it was a mixed group. And they were organizing to, I guess to help... well, I guess it was to deal with the parental generation, sort of like they were going to set up projects and social works and stuff like that and organize, politically organize and that kind of thing. And there, I started gradually thinking more about it because I think it came up more and more. It hadn't for a long time. But my real activity was when I move up to Seattle, and that's when a real organized situation began to take form. And it was lucky that I was with the Seattle group because they were the most active of all of these people. I was able to step into that and learn a lot from Henry Miyatake and Shosuke Sasaki, those guys. 'Cause they had done a lot of spadework digging into the records and things, so they knew a lot.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MN: Can you share with us a little bit about Rabbit in the Moon and how that concept came about? Was it Emiko your sister who first came up with the idea or did you two, were you two talking about it?

CO: Well, I had been very active in redress and she was not. But I would talk about what we were doing and all this sort of thing. And you know, I think I've told you all this, about being involved in the Hohri case and also I had interesting stories to tell about going to the Supreme Court and all that. So I just talked about it off and on. And the Seattle group, the hard core of about seven or eight people, were very diligent. We met very faithfully once a month or more often. We had a lot of organized activities, we put out a newsletter, we commemorated February 19th all the time. And there was Frank Abe and Frank Chin was around, and so when I look back on it, those were great times. We were just really doing stuff. But I think really the unconscious push to do all of this was because the whole thing was a very painful experience and it was sort of like gradually trying to deal with the anger and the hurt and just the sorrow and everything that was part of that experience, and it was just beginning to come to the surface for me anyway. So that was a great outlet, to be active in redress. 'Cause we wrote letters, we went to our congressmen, and oh gad, all sorts of stuff. We had to have fundraisers all the time to keep it going. And then being part of the lawsuit also kept me very informed because I would get these legal briefs and stuff like that. Not I read them all and all that, but it's just that I had all that material, so I started learning more and more about it. Like when did I find out about "no-no" and stuff like that? I don't know. But just as these bits of information kept coming up, it just became very fascinating to me. And I must say I spent some years just being kind of obsessed about it all. But then, a lot of people were around, so I could just ask them all kinds of things about various people's experiences and things. And there was more and more literature coming out. It was like a tipping point or something. And all of a sudden a lot of stuff came out.

Again, the business about the "loyalty questionnaire," I got into a deep study of that just simply accidently through Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig. Then it really hit me that there's so much about this that most people don't know. Even those who experienced it don't know these things because most people, they could remember their own personal experience and maybe a little bit about some people in other camps and all that. But as far as the big picture, the overall picture, there just was not enough general information out there. Now, if you're a scholar, and after all, Peter Irons is writing books like Justice at War and all those, they were out there, but it was not the kind of thing that the average Nikkei or the average person anywhere would have read. So it just seemed like, gee, people ought to know about this somehow. But then how do you do that? I could write a book.

As a matter of fact, when the... no, that's later. So it was around... let's see, when was the redress thing passed? About '88? I think '88, yeah, and it was about a year or so later. I was digging into this like that, and I said, "Gee, somebody should make a documentary about this." Somebody else, not us, somebody else. So we started asking various professionals, especially in the Asian American community, "Would you be interested in making a documentary about this?" And most people weren't. We asked a number of people, and we didn't get anybody who was seriously committed to doing this kind of thing, so we finally just said, "Well, I guess we'll have to do it ourselves," which turned out to be the best decision. The reason that we decided that is that if we wanted a certain side of the story to be told, it would have to be told by us, not somebody else. Not JACL, not 442nd, because those people, they already had films and lots of public exposure. Whereas all this other stuff had not had the exposure. And Tule Lake was the most fascinating story of all. I thought we would make a documentary just about Tule Lake. But that wasn't feasible either because who would know what Tule Lake is if they didn't know about all the camps and all the other parts of it all? So then I'm saying, "Man, to tell this story right, we'd have to have a series of about eight or ten episodes, but then who's going to give us money to do that kind of thing? There were so many layers and there were so many different aspects and everything. And I was aware of all that, but it was like, well, we'll just shoot for at least one. And it really would have to be aimed toward a general audience, the American public in general or something like that. So that's why we narrowed it down to... let's see, turned out to be eighty-five minutes to one documentary of that length.

MN: When did you decide to bring in your family story?

CO: Well, that was later, of course. It's because, as we were going along and my sister was kind of trying to shape up some kind of narrative, and so she said to me one day, "I need certain bits of information to fill the gaps," to hold the story... from all the different interviews that we had done, that there'd be something that kind of helped bridge certain gaps that we have here. So we just sat down in her kitchen and just started this rambling story. And she got fascinated with it because I'd never talked about a lot of this stuff with her. So she got sort of interested in the family history, the family story, because she was only a year old when we went into camp. So she didn't remember the camps, she didn't remember the prewar stuff or any of that. So she got real interested in it. So she was having other people transcribe our interviews, and one person said to her, "Hey, this is really interesting," about our family story. So I didn't want to be in this thing. I thought I was just giving out... because I did at that point already know a lot about the camp history, so that we would just use bridge information. But then I think the transcriber was a friend of hers and she says, "You got to use this stuff." She said, "No, we don't want to drag our family into this." But after a while, they did, her friends persuaded us that this is one way to have a thread through the story by tying it to one family, which is us, because knew ourselves, or we had the pictures and things like that. So reluctantly I said, "Well, okay." Anyway, but every time there would be a rough cut and I would say, "Cut me out of that." [Laughs] But anyway, I was in Seattle and she was in San Francisco and so I didn't get too much veto power at that point.


CO: Frank Chin and Frank Abe had gotten started on their resisters project, and so we were in a little bit of a friendly competition about who would finish first or who would get this grant or that grant and that kind of thing. So in a way, we were egging each other on at that point, so I remember that, we used to laugh about that. But we got more grants than they did at that point. [Laughs]

MN: And you finished, came out with it a year early.

CO: Yeah, we came out early, so too bad. [Laughs] Oh, well.

MN: Now, the title of the movie, Rabbit in the Moon. In Japan, the image of the rabbit in the moon is very well-known, but not here in America. Where did you get this concept? Is this something that your mother used to tell you?

CO: I guess. Like I think there were little storybooks and stuff like that, but the image of the rabbit with the hachimaki around his head and the mochi, pounding the mochi, was something that was really embedded in our minds, so I guess it was stories that were told to us. You know what? When I was in Tokyo, I went to a big bookstore asking for children's books, 'cause I wanted that. I couldn't find a single one. So I would ask the clerks and they didn't know anything about such a story. So who knows? It's kind of faded out of their literature. But anyway, actually, my sister chose that image. I didn't like it, but she just overrode me, so that was that. It turned out that, in a symbolic sort of way, it's something that catches people's attention, so I can see why it's nice to not have like... what was mine? "A Question of Loyalty." Well, that was much more eye-catching than something so legalistic.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MN: Now I know you said the story of the veterans had already been done and you wanted to go to the stories that haven't been told yet. How did you go about picking who to include and who not to include?

CO: Well, you know, it's not so easy to get people to talk, especially to get into things rather than giving us superficial stuff. So I would ask around. We had Aiko and Michi and all kinds of people like that, Michi Weglyn, sort of being sources for us. I knew quite a few of those people ahead of time, but let's see now. Well, I knew Jimmie Omura, and how did we meet Mits? Oh, we knew Art Hansen and Art Hansen knew a lot of these people. So we had to get people who were willing to tell their stories. So asking around those who were willing, we picked. And of course, not everybody got into the film, but anyway, we recorded quite a few interviews. And I learned a lot about things like it's different from literature because you have to have people who spoke clearly enough and pointedly enough about information and all that, that you could keep it. Now, we went all the way out to Arizona, took one other crewperson, anyway, we went and spent several days with Morris Opler, who was one of the resident anthropologists at Manzanar during the whole thing. And he was a person who was very knowledgeable. But at that point, he was pretty old, and he was under a lot of medication. So we'd ask him a question, and he'd start out but then he would start to fade, and his head would nod. We didn't use any of it because the stories were interesting, but you know, he just... well, he just sounded like he's half asleep so we just couldn't use it. [Laughs] That was a disappointment, but anyway, you learn as you go along.

And then, of course, you have to choose what you're going to use out of several hours of interviewing. So you had to make your choices about, all right, what ideas, what issues, what themes are really the basic part of this story? And no matter how interesting all this other stuff is, and most of the interviews were really fascinating. You know, like interviewing allows you to be nosy and you can ask people all these things and you hear all kinds of stories about their childhood and their families and all that. So it's pretty rich, but we really had to choose. That's what this documentary business is about, is about eliminating and eliminating and choosing and just the stuff that really make your points for you. So that was a hard lesson to learn. It's like there was so much that was equally interesting it seemed. Like, okay, we did not include Hirabayashi, Yasui and Korematsu because it felt to me like if we go into that, it's such a big story that within our short timeframe, we couldn't do it justice. So we didn't include that, and I think when we were working on a revision or something, we just put in a plaque about the lawsuits and all. So that if anybody was really interested, they could look it up. Because that's a whole other big issue, and other people have already made, or have subsequently. Steven Okazaki and the one on Korematsu, other people have covered those subjects.

MN: Now, the people you interviewed are talking about topics that really have never been talked about publicly: draft resistance, "no-no."

CO: Questionnaire, yeah.

MN: Did you have a very difficult time getting these people to go on camera?

CO: Well, we chose people who were willing to talk. So no, it wasn't difficult. And we decided not to do any of the veterans all that because that, again, would take the story off in another direction, a large chunk of it. And I know people have the impression that we're anti... well, we are anti-JACL, I admit that. But we're certainly not anti-442nd or any of that. It's just that, again, that's such a huge story and can't cover everything. So we let that go. Besides, they'd already had other big documentaries made about them and everything, so that story is out there.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

MN: I was gonna ask you about the JACL because when Rabbit came out, there was a feeling within the JACL because I was working at the Pacific Citizen at the time, that this was an anti-JACL movie. How did you feel about those accusations?

CO: Like I say, I admit that that is a point that we had made in the thing. But we came to that conclusion from doing a lot of research, from talking to a lot of people about this business, and that it was one of the central facts about the camp situation, that JACL was influential. They had offices in Washington, D.C. and all that, and that they also had their books and their spokespersons out there. So we just felt that another side of that should be presented. And when people, like in Q&A, I would say to people, "Well, you know, that's a very small part of our movie. Our movie is really about the government's acts and not really about JACL." But I know that a lot of them took it rather personally.

MN: In fact, I think there was so much discussion within the JACL regarding Rabbit, they invited you to the JACL Tri-District in Salt Lake City, which I was there also. How did you feel about accepting that invitation and how do you think that session went?

CO: I have no qualms about talking about all this. We accepted most invitations that we got; they just didn't invited us very much. [Laughs] But I knew that there would be people there who were friends of mine, especially from the Seattle area. So I didn't think that we were being thrown into a cave of lions, an arena. So also, by that time, I felt that I had a pretty good firm grasp on the history and the facts and all this sort of thing, that I could probably answer whatever they felt like throwing at me. So I was, I didn't feel like I was going to be totally humiliated by them or something. But there were some irritable old men at that thing. The thing is, they didn't do their homework either. Well, what did they know about all these things? I don't know. But when one of them said, "What did you ever do for redress?" And I said, "Well, I worked for ten years with the Seattle Redress Committee, and I was a named plaintiff in this lawsuit," and all that. And so he sort of got caught trying to humiliate me. I had my bona fides or whatever, so too bad.

MN: I remember the session went very well for you guys, you and your sister.

CO: Yeah, because there were a lot of young people there, and so we had a lot of stuff to talk about, yeah.

MN: Now, in your DVD that you are issuing now, there's an extra portion on there.

CO: Yes, there's a lot of extra stuff. I said, "I'm going to throw the kitchen sink into as much space as we have on this thing. We'll just put in stuff."

MN: And one of your new editions is an interview with John Tateishi, who was then the National Executive Director of JACL. Now, was it difficult to get an interview with him?

CO: I recall that, well, that's in San Francisco. So like we didn't have to set up some elaborate scheduling or anything like that, and he was very cooperative. I don't recall that he was hesitant or anything. So we went into the JACL office and just filmed him there. And I thought that John is a pretty intelligent, articulate person, so I felt free to ask him anything. I was very curious about particularly what he could tell me about Mike Masaoka. And I thought he said bunch of fairly revealing things about Mike. I also know that he had to tiptoe through some things and I respect him for speaking to us, first of all, and that he even went as far as he did. And I certainly got the impression from him that Masaoka himself was a somewhat conflicted person. I kind of remember where he said that he thought that at one point, Mike was ready to say a few apologetic things about his role and about the JACL's role. And John thought that he was gonna get up, I think, at one of the JACL conventions, I'm not sure, to say a few things about this but it didn't happen. So either Mike -- now, this is my impression of what John told me so it's already pretty far afield from Mike himself -- but that either people told him not to do it, that it wasn't a good thing to do or that he decided that maybe he wouldn't do that. And there is that one remark, and I said, "Gee, he would have done the community a lot of good had he done that." John said yes, he thought that would have been a good thing. Well, anyway, that was very interesting, that he said that there were many among that group that had regrets about how it all, fallout from all that stuff. But he said they were really green at the time and he felt that they were exploited by those government agencies and such. That's probably true; probably true. But Masaoka, now, he's a little different, but I don't want to go into all that right now, right here. [Laughs]

MN: Well, what about the reaction from the non-Nikkei community to Rabbit? How has that been?

CO: Well, who would say anything except somebody who had something positive to say, pretty much? So it's still selling, there are individuals and schools and libraries and universities and all sorts of places. I still get a couple of orders or three or four orders a week for Rabbit, so it lives on. And like this last week I got an order from Tokyo University and another one from a Taiwanese library, they wanted to use it for their classrooms or something. So it's gotten around. And it's been shown on television with voiceover in Germany and in France, Israel, I think in Brazil. I don't know, it's just gone out all over the place. And broadcast, Japan, on their television.

MN: Do you know what the reception in Japan was like?

CO: I really don't. Except that some schoolteachers use it. And when I went to Japan on vacation once, Aiko told me, "Oh, you should look up so and so," so I just called a few people to say that, "Aiko told me to say hello." And they immediately asked me if I would like to come and lecture to their students. So I went to about four different universities just like that and talked to students. I mean, every little encounter helps.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

MN: Are you working on any other projects right now?

CO: Me? No, nothing big, nothing big. Although Tom was asking me, "Why don't you write?" Well, I may. I may.

MN: You're an expert on the "loyalty questionnaire."

CO: Yeah, right, and I did one first draft on that. And I think that's something that clearly needs to be presented to the public. So yeah, that's something. I really should get that first draft out and work on it some more before I really start losing my marbles. [Laughs] But there is, for me, a real sense of tragedy about this experience for our community, because I feel that it was something that was so traumatic and kind of damaging to people's identity and self-esteem and all these things that it changed the community profoundly.

MN: Do you think redress has sort of partly healed that?

CO: Not for me, because I have gone into it so deeply and stuff like that. I mean, the fact that it got through Congress, which was totally unexpected, 'cause I didn't expect to see it get that far, that was gratifying. And I suppose you could say, "Well, ha ha, we've at last put it into the history books, finally." That, yes. But still, how about all the people who didn't get redress? What about that whole generation of Issei who lost everything? I don't feel... there's just no way to compensate for all that. But this division brought on by who was patriotic and who wasn't, you know, that's a real tragedy for our community.

MN: Do you think in the next generation this rift will heal?

CO: Well, it just won't matter anymore, I think, because we'll be dead, the ones who went through the experience personally will be dead. And so many of the Yonsei and so on have really just melted into the American middle class so that they will have very little knowledge of the kind of discrimination that the earlier generations had to live through, and to be so humiliated as to be stuck in concentration camps for years. That it'll be stories, but hopefully it will have become part of the racial history of this country because of all the racial problems that we've had in this country, and this is just one of them, just happened to fall on our heads. But then again it's like... oh, what should I say? A warning about what can happen to groups even in a so-called democracy like ours. Anyway, the Japanese culture and the American culture in so many ways is so deeply different that those of us Nisei particularly, I think, psychically and having undergone the concentration camp experience and all that, that it was a soul... what should I say? A very wounding kind of thing. And so I think they've gone through with a certain amount of insecurity all of their lives, not exactly knowing who they were. I mean, this whole question of, "Do you know who you are?" That's such an amorphous kind of question, I can't deal with it on that level. But it's just that we do come from various different value systems and they can be very conflicting. I mean, sometimes I used to say things like, "Oh, I have the best of both worlds. I have the good parts of this and the good parts of this, and I can live like that." Yeah, but actually, there are bad parts of this and bad parts of that. And so there are situations when you feel somehow... for instance, I used to joke about this. About how, well, I will go ahead and do what I want to do, but my mother will make sure that I don't enjoy it. [Laughs] That somehow she's there in the back of me disapproving. I've done a lot of things that she wouldn't like. So it's a little extra baggage I carry around with me. And I guess I sort of project that onto other Nisei, too, like, oh, I don't want to tell them about this and that about my life because they'll say I'm a bad person. [Laughs]

MN: Anything else you want to add?

CO: No, I think that's enough. [Laughs]

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.